With the rise of big data, more and more companies across different sectors in Hong Kong require skilled professionals to derive insights from huge data sets to make critical business decisions. Demand is rising for data scientists or professionals with data analytics skills.
In Hong Kong we don’t see many data scientist job openings in job boards when compared the US or Europe. The nascent data science job market in Hong Kong is a key factor. Nonetheless, the demand for data scientists is on the rise, according to some recruitment firms and enterprises in Hong Kong.
Nascent job market
“Hong Kong is lagging behind other countries like the US or UK in terms of the maturity of the data science job market,” said Ivan Lam, associate director, IT at Morgan McKinley, a global recruitment firm. “Some local hiring managers find it hard to outline the job description of a data scientist opening. Sometimes I recommend our clients to use the title ‘senior data analyst’ rather than ‘data scientist’ in their job postings in order to attract more applicants.”
According to Lam, the data scientists sourced by his company for clients are mostly from overseas.
The regional director of digital innovation & business intelligence at UBM Asia
“The industries operating in Hong Kong do not recognize the profession as distinctively as in the US, where you see more job descriptions with titles ‘data scientists’,” said Chan.
“Certainly [there is] high demand for skilled data scientists who have an understanding of data preparations, analytics as well as statistical techniques. They do not present themselves as data scientists--some are programmers, some are analysts employed in various roles across marketing and IT,” he added.
UBM has 12 data professionals working in the company’s business intelligence department in the Hong Kong office. They are carrying job titles like assistant manager, manager CRM, senior analysts and analysts.
Difference between data scientists & analysts
Generally speaking, a data analyst’s role is to look through the data collected from multiple sources, analyze it and provide reports and visualizations.
At a higher level, a data scientist is not only good at collating and interpreting data, he also needs to derive actionable insights from data or even use the data to transform business.
“A data scientist may be required to devise a proposal, communicate it to key stakeholders or even persuade the board to drive changes in a company,” Lam explained.
On the career prospect side, Lam pointed out that a data professional could start his career as a data analyst, and then move up to the roles of senior data analyst and ultimately data scientist. A more senior leadership role called ‘chief data architect’ is gaining ground.
The recruitment of data scientists or data analysts has been an uprising trend across sectors in Hong Kong since early last year, according to Lam. The financial services industry (FSI), retailers, property management and telecoms companies have high demand for these talents.
Another worldwide recruitment company Page Personnel Hong KongFintech and IT solutions providers.
"The industries with keen demand for data scientists are Fintech, IT solutions providers, and those in the commercial space," said Angela Chan, manager of contract team at Page Personnel. "By comparison, there is not so much demand for data scientists in the FSI and professional industries."
Talents with diverse skills
In today’s dynamic business environment, aside from technical know-how like programming languages and hands-on experience in data analytics tools, a data scientist should also have commercial experience, project management and communication skills.
“Data science must operate within the context of a business problem. Without the problem defined clearly and business stakeholders involved from the start, data scientists cannot produce anything actionable as the actions are often performed by the business,” said UBM Asia’s Chan.
As such, some experience working with the commercial side of a company, speaking the language of the business, getting buy-ins and rapport, and then translating business needs into algorithms and codes are the essential skill sets of an effective data scientist, according to him.
The majority of data professionals at UBM support sales or marketing campaign cycles and provide data analysis and reporting. They occasionally develop new data-driven approaches to old problems such as predicting customer engagement behavior. Other data professionals are project managers who implement CRM and associated systems.
In view of the shortage of skilled talents, employers in Hong Kong are starting to hire data scientists on a contract basis.
According to Page Personnel’s Asia findings of the 2016 Global Temporary Employment Report, Hong Kong companies are using temp workers for more specialized positions than before--IT being one of these industries. Some of these IT-related specialized positions are project managers (including data analysts and business analysts) and data scientists.
“Although the majority of data scientist positions are still permanent, more organizations in Hong Kong are open to hiring them on a temporary or contractual basis,” said Page Personnel’s Chan.
Morgan McKinley’s Lam noted that his clients employ data scientists as permanent or contract staff. As the job involves the handling of sensitive data, some of his FSI clients tend to recruit data scientists on a permanent basis. Permanent staff are also more committed to a company.
Similar to all other jobs, the salary of a data scientist depends on his working experience. Morgan McKinley noted that compared to non-FSI companies, FSI companies are wiling to pay more to an experienced data professional.
“A candidate who has over 10 years of working experience with a minimum 5-year data science or analytics experience could be offered HK$60,000 to $75,000 a month from non-FSI companies whereas his salary could reach HK$75,000 to $95,000 if he is employed by FSI companies,” said Morgan McKinley’s Lam.
"For a data scientist with five years of relevant experience, the salary can start from HK$30,000 to $70,000. At director grade on the buy side, the salary of a data scientist may reach HK$100,000 a month," Page Personnel’s Chan said.
Recently, Page Personnel recruited a data scientist for a buy side company. Carrying a managing role, the candidate is required to supervise a team of two to three people. For this position, the main job duties are to design and implement a cloud application, and knowledge of Python programming language is required. The salary level depends on the candidates' communication skills and his or her previous experience. With about 10 to 15 years of experience, for example, the candidate could be offered about HK$70,000 to $90,000 a month.
Currently most of the data scientists or analysts are usually attached to the IT department or working in various departments such as sales, marketing and finance.
With the growing importance of data professionals, there is a need to bring them together to a separate department altogether.
“I foresee in five years’ time, mature or sizable companies in Hong Kong will have a department dedicated to data analytics,” Lam concluded.
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